Skip to page content

About this Piece

Until his death at age 90, Aaron Copland was considered the dean of American composers - of serious music as differentiated from popular music, whose dean had unquestionably been Irving Berlin, who had died a year earlier at the age of 101.

One of the amazing and heartening things about Copland was that, as a classical composer, he was able to claim a special and sizeable share of the affection of a population not notably partial to the contemporary music product. This situation occurred largely because of the Americanization of the Brooklyn-born composer, which was one of the nicest things to happen to American music.

The titles alone of many of the works in Copland's catalogue testify to his identification with Americana. In addition to the ballets Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring, there are Lincoln Portrait, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Old American Songs, among others.

The songs, numbering ten in all, were written in two sets of five, the first in 1950 and the second in 1952. The composer himself later made orchestral transcriptions of his original piano accompaniments. Using 19th-century songs from many sources - minstrelsy, the church, folk culture - Copland operated on the highest level of adaptation, re-creating the spirit and atmosphere of the originals with artful simplicity.

"The Dodger" was supposedly used in the 1884 presidential campaign. "Long Time Ago" was published in 1837 as adapted by George Pope Morris and Charles Edward Horn from an anonymous minstrel tune. The Shaker song "Simple Gifts" was a favorite of Copland, who first used it in Appalachian Spring. "The Little Horses" is a lullaby originating in the South. "The Golden Willow Tree" is a variant of the ballad usually known as "The Golden Vanity," as found at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress. Published in 1843, "The Boatmen's Dance" was a banjo tune by Dan Emmett, who also wrote "Dixie."

- Orrin Howard, who served the Association as Director of Publications and Archives for many years, continues to contribute to the Philharmonic program book.